22nd Jun2014

Ten Best: Movies of the Year… So Far!

by Dan Clark

It is that time again as 2014 is already half over. Wow, time flies when you are watching movies. The year being half over brings my annual, “Top 10 Movies of the Year…So Far” list, and without question this is my strongest list by a long shot. One big reason is the increase of great titles that have been released On Demand.  Half of my list in fact is made up of films I saw On Demand. Now I am all for supporting your local Art House Theater as much as possible, but certain films don’t make it outside of LA and New York so On Demand is a great tool to experience some great Independent movies. I feel like geek culture is far too obsessed with franchises that stick to the same format over and over again. I enjoy franchise movies as well, as you will see on this list, but you rarely get a high level of ingenuity and creativity from a studio film.   There may be movies on this list you have not seen or perhaps even heard of.  I would advise give them a shot to see what you think. You may enjoy them as much as me, or think I am out of my mind for liking them. Either way it’s a good way to see the complete picture of today’s movie landscape.

Honorable Mentions:

Joe

Directed By: David Gordon Green
Written By:  Gary Hawkins
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, and Gary Poulter

Synopsis: An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin.

Quick Take: David Gordon Green went off the rails for a little while, but with last year’s Prince Avalanche and now Joe he has come back in a big way. Speaking of off the rails, Nicolas Cage reminds us that he can be a good actor when he is given the proper material. Tye Sheridan continues to impress in his young career, but the standout may be the surprising first time actor Gary Poulter. He never acted a day in his life before this movie, yet you would never know it. If he hadn’t tragically passed aware after filming there is a good chance he could have found himself a new career.

Snowpiercer

Directed By: Joon-ho Bong
Written By: Joon-ho Bong, Kelly Masterson
Starring: Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, and Tilda Swinton

Synopsis: In a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off all life on the planet except for a lucky few that boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system evolves.

Quick Take: Joon-ho Bong is one of my personal favorite directors working today. He is a director that takes on all genres, sometimes all in the same movie. Snowpiercer has a rather eclectic design that makes it quite unlike anything else. This is the type of movie I can easily see becoming a huge cult classic in years to come. It is a genre film in the best ways possible, and the cast is surprising strong from top to bottom.  I just hope it can build up enough steam to garner the audience is so justly deserves.

Cheap Thrills

Directed By:  E.L. Katz
Written By:  David Chirchirillo, Trent Haaga
Starring: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, and Sara Paxton

Synopsis: A scheming couple put a struggling family man and his old friend through a series of increasingly twisted dares over the course of an evening at a local bar.

Quick Take:  I personally love dark humor. Perhaps I have a twisted mind, but as long as it doesn’t get too crazy I am typically on board. Cheap Thrills  is one of the better dark comedies I have seen. The concept is not all that unique, but where it goes is still shocking in the best ways possible. It also was not just shock for shock sake. There is a purpose behind the craziness as it brings you into the minds of these characters and their utter desperation.  It is not necessarily commentary rather depiction of how quickly we can fall when we are pushed hard enough.

The Top 10:

10) The Double

The-Double-cast

Directed By: Richard Ayoade
Written By: Richard Ayoade, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn

Synopsis: A clerk in a government agency finds his unenviable life takes a turn for the horrific with the arrival of a new co-worker who is both his exact physical double and his opposite – confident, charismatic and seductive with women.

Quick Take: Now that the honorable mentions are out of the way we can get to the actual countdown.  The first thing I think of when The Double  comes to my mind is the unique set design. This future envisioned by the past is endlessly charming to me.  This has been the year of the doppelganger. (As this is one of two movies in my top 10 with that theme) I am not sure why that is, perhaps its due to the question of identity we face in a virtual climate.  Richard Ayoade has started strong as a director giving us two solid films that are vastly different. This also has one of my favorite scores of the year so far.

9) The Lego Movie

the-lego-movie-cast

Directed By: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Written By: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett

Synopsis: An ordinary Lego construction worker, thought to be the prophesied ‘Special’, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil tyrant from gluing the Lego universe into eternal stasis.

Quick Take: As shocking as it may sound Legos were not a huge part of my childhood. After watching The Lego Movie  I wish they were.  I was not sure what to expect with this concept. I have great respect for the creative team behind the project. What I was not sure of was what they would do with it. My question was answered with an inventive story that was full of cheer and satirical wit. The voice cast is strong, and I loved everything about the animation. They used the Lego motif to great advantage. There a few more animated movies I am looking forward to, but it will be hard for this not to be the best animated movie of the year.

8) Enemy

Enemy

Directed By: Denis Villeneuve
Written By:  José Saramago and  Javier Gullón
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, and Sarah Gadon

Synopsis: A man seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie.

Quick Take:  As mentioned previously this is the year of the doppelganger and Enemy  is here to back up that claim. Enemy  and The Double  both involved doppelgangers and that is where their similarities end. Enemy  is far more thematically rich and much more of a daunting experience. Director Denis Villeneuve has given us Prisoners  and Incendies so that should not come as a surprise.  This easily has the most controversial ending so far, which has led to a mountain of interoperations. It is one of the movies I enjoy talking about the most because they is so much you can get into.

7) X-Men: Days of Future Past

x-men-dofp

Directed By: Bryan Singer
Written By:  Simon Kinberg and Jane Goldman
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Hugh Jackman

Synopsis: The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants.

Quick Take: When I created my list of the movies I most anticipated this year X-Men: Days of Future Past  was number one on that list. You may see it as number seven here and think that means it was a disappointment. That is not the case at all. It hit all of my expectations and in some cases even exceeded them. Bryan Singer came back to this franchise and it was as if he never left. So why is it not higher? Well, simply I enjoyed the movies ahead of it more, which to me is indication of how strong this year has started off.

6) Mistaken for Strangers

mistakenforstrangers

Directed By: Tom Berninger
Starring: Tom Berninger, Matt Berninger, Bryce Dessner

Synopsis: Tom Berninger chronicles his time spent on the road as a member of the tour crew for The National, the rock & roll band fronted by his brother, Matt.

Quick Take:  When I do my end of year lists I separate documentaries and standard films.  Since I am pulling from a smaller pool of movies I combine them for my halfway list. This is one of my biggest surprises of the year as I did not expect much from this movie. I was hoping for something good and I got something great. It was like watching American Movie  and Anvil: The Story of Anvil come together for one epic movie. It is heartwarming, heartbreaking, uncomfortable to witness, and deeply satisfying. I never heard of the band The National before this documentary, and you don’t have to in order to enjoy it.

5) Captain America: The Winter Solider

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-chris-evans-samuel-l-jackson

Directed By: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Written By: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Starring:  Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Scarlett Johansson

Synopsis: Steve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: The Soviet agent known as the Winter Solider.

Quick Take: After X-Men: Days of Future Past the question become which movie was better; Captain America or X-Men? I went back and forth a few times, but in the end I had to go with Winter Solider. Both are two of the better comic book movies we have got in a while. What set  Winter Solider slightly apart was its issues were not as glaring, and it was such a vast improvement over anything else Marvel has done to this point. It was the total Marvel movie. Great action, great characters, and a great story. Usually Marvel Studio films falter in one of those categories.

4) The Grand Budapest Hotel

Grand-Budapest-Hotel-Fiennes

Directed By: Wes Anderson
Written By: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric

Synopsis: The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

Quick Take: The one worry I had about The Grand Budapest Hotel was it would be too much of a Wes Anderson film. Strangely it is very much a Wes Anderson movie, yet it never became an issue. His normal tropes were all there with the slightest adjustments to make them fresh and appealing. Not to mention the spirit that caries through ever scene. There is an unrelenting cheer that makes me want to go back to this movie again and again. I would not call it Anderson’s best movie—it is much closer than I expected.  Similar to The Double  this also has one of my favorite scores of the year.

3) 12 O’Clock Boys

12oclock2

Directed By: Lotfy Nathan
Starring: Coco, Pug, Steven

Synopsis: Pug, a young boy growing up on a combative West Baltimore block, finds solace in a group of illegal dirt bike riders known as The 12 O’Clock Boys.

Quick Take:  Now we come to what is currently my favorite documentary of the year. Someone described 12 O’Clock Boys  as ‘The Wire with Wheelies’ and that statement is rather valid. It also strongly reminds me a great deal of Hoop Dreams  just not as expansive. It covers this underground culture with a voyeuristic eye. Not passing judgment on what is by all means illegal behavior, instead looking to see where it comes from and why it is so admired.  I am hoping this gains an even wider audience because it certainly deserves it. I was greatly anticipating this since I first heard about it debuting at Hot Docs last year, and it did not disappoint.

2) Blue Ruin

blue-ruin-cast

Directed By: Jeremy Saulnier
Written By: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves

Synopsis: A mysterious outsider’s quiet life is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family.

Quick Take: No movie this year has grown on me more since my first viewing than Blue Ruin. The more I revisit it and reexamine it the more I find that I like. Honestly in my first review I don’t believe I appreciated the deconstruction of the revenge genre nearly enough.  Director Jeremy Saulnier shows great craftsmanship in the way he subverts expectations to build tension. He takes the framework we are all used to and flips it on its head.  There are at least three to four scenes in this that are near the top of my favorite scenes of the year.

1) Under the Skin

under_the_skin_Johansson

Directed By: Jonathan Glazer
Written By: Walter Campbell
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay

Synopsis: A mysterious seductress preys upon the population of Scotland.

Quick Take: Under the Skin  is in the category of movies I personally love but would recommend to just about no one. The easiest way to compare Under the Skin  is to link it to movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Tree of Life.  That’s mostly due to the way it does not rely on traditional narrative structure. It is more of an experience than a story. An experience that is energized by what is unmistakably the best score of the year for me.  For one it is a huge factor in setting the mood for each scene as it takes what should be a humdrum moments and makes you feel on edge. I began this article by indicating the importance of expanding horizons. No movie has done that more for me this year than Under the Skin. There is no question this is a decisive movie.  You will have people who love it like me, and you will have those who hate every moment of it—and I do not think either side is wrong. In order to achieve greatness you have to be willing to be decisive. The broader of an audience you appeal to the narrower your accomplishment typically becomes. Director Jonathan Glazer appears to have little concern for the audience. He has an obsessive dream he is trying to achieve and he pays little attention to who enjoys it. I for one was transfixed from beginning to end.

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2 Responses to “Ten Best: Movies of the Year… So Far!”

  • Matt

    Your list is too good to include X-Men and Captain America. If you wanted to include a Hollywood film with substance, you should have watched NOAH. Very contemplative. Otherwise, good list.

  • dave

    Edge Of tomorrow.. X men.. Raid 2…Grand Budapest hotel. so far for me.